Passed in 1978, the Pregnancy Discrimination Act amended Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 to make clear that the prohibition on sex discrimination in employment includes discrimination on the basis of pregnancy, childbirth and related conditions.
Thirty-five years after the PDA, pregnant workers need workplace accommodations in order to continue safely working, such as avoiding heavy lifting, being able to sit during long shifts or staying off high ladders, and these are all too often accommodations that are denied.
Women who bring in doctor’s notes with restrictions are being forced out on unpaid leave, even though other employees are being accommodated based on their disabilities and on-the-job injuries.
A Better Balance and the National Woman’s Law Center released a report entitled: “It Shouldn’t Be a Heavy Lift: Fair Treatment for Pregnant Workers,” which explores the changing nature of our workforce and how pregnant workers contribute substantially both to our national economy and their families’ financial security.
The report includes two stories from New York — from Yvette in New York City, and Hilda Guzzman from Long Island. Yvette had to risk her health and the health of her baby when she was pregnant a few years ago. She asked for a reprieve from heavy lifting and her manager responded by giving her more heavy lifting to do. During a later pregnancy, when she brought in a doctor’s note indicating a lifting restriction, she was pushed out of the workplace and onto disability leave. One month before she gave birth the disability payments ran dry and she had to go on unpaid leave—at seven months pregnant she was stuck without health insurance and without any income.
Another woman, Hilda Guzzman, was denied a stool to sit on when she worked the cash register at a retail store. Even when she developed pregnancy complications and landed in the emergency room every few days, her manager wouldn’t let her sit on a stool. Her doctor eventually had to put her on bed rest to get her off her feet.
Pregnant women that I have helped were not allowed bathroom breaks, nor were given requested adjustments to their workday — allowing them to start later in the day.
In October 2013, the New York City Council unanimously passed the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act, a bill, which ensures current protections from employer discrimination against pregnant workers. City employers must now provide reasonable accommodations for the need of a worker related to pregnancy, childbirth or a related medical condition. Some of those accommodations include rest breaks, assistance with manual breaks and a period of recovery from childbirth.
Upstate NY should follow the NYC lead!
Lindy Korn practices at The Law Office of Lindy Korn and can be reached at email@example.com or (716) 856-KORN (5676).